29 May 2010

Salvage Rehearsal Videos

I've just uploaded two videos from the "feel through" rehearsal of Salvage, the dance performance choreographed by Alyce Bochette.   The first is from the dance "Shiny Objects," and it features original music by Rodney Woolsey and dancers Mariquita Anderson, Kelley Natella, Gerri Reaves, Jennifer Reed, and Lynn Vosloo, with an appearance by Katie Pankow.  

The second is from the dance "Ray of Light," and it features dancers Mariquita Anderson, Kelley Natella, Gerri Reaves, Jennifer Reed, and Lynn Vosloo.

The floor had just been laid two days before, and as you can tell from the video, Stuart Brown is still setting up the lights.  We didn't have the tech set up until the next evening (some 80+ light cues), and so you are seeing something very much in progress.  Even so, what with a simple marking, the dancers going at 50%, and the limited sound and lighting, you can see how marvelous the choreography is.  Oh, and Kelley had a perfect ascension in the performance.

26 May 2010

Gods & Money #1 Word Is "Body"

Found this word counter web site through surfing Kelli Russell Agodon's blog.  So I decided to run the text of my forthcoming book, Gods & Money.

The results?

Word Frequency

There's a good reason why "camel" and "poem" are so high on the list, but you'll have to read the book to see why. 

24 May 2010

Project Vacuum

After having had about eight months running of creative projects, mostly collaborative, I have almost nothing on my plate, and so it's mostly free time right now as I wait for my summer teaching to kick in mid-June (a graduate seminar on Whitman--pretty sweet, huh?). 

So predictably, the first order of business is cleaning the floors, reading some random books of poetry, and catching up on my New Yorkers and several literary magazines (including Crab Creek Review). 

But what's so odd about all this is dealing with my own nonchalant attitude about my forthcoming book, Gods & Money, which will be out next month.  I've got gigs lined up, and I'll do my publicity blasts and adept peddling, but I probably won't have a formal book launch until fall sometime after the snowbirds return.  I'm genuinely proud of the book, counting my good fortune and all, but I am going through one of my poetry cooling stages (this kind of fits with my complicated and imperfect metaphor of poetry writing as a process of nuclear fission, trying to free those lighter, crazy careening neutrons). 

Or, what it might be, really might be, is that I'm tired of the linking of my art thing to academic review.  I think that's one reason why I've had such fun with the fringe work, which is very serious, that I have been involved in:  amateur acting, auto-performing, art collaborations, dance collaborations.  I'm not degreed in any of that stuff, and they are the kinds of activities that don't readily "count" in my annual review of "scholarship." 

The standard expectation regarding academic scholarship is that your career follows a steady, ever-climbing trajectory, and every year, as a part of my annual review, I am supposed to write a narrative of my scholarship that shows continual improvement--it's a script really, one that even the most hardened of post-structuralists happily adheres.  In short, one's academic work is supposed to  get better published, reviewed, and cited, a progression that culminates in some big final collected volume.  But I'm usually the one in faculty meetings to cite the exceptions of geniuses, or late bloomers, or mathematicians who shoot their wads at age 25, or poets who loaf and look at blades of grass. 

So, sometimes in reaction to that expectation, I just want to stop.  Or get off.  No, it's not that I feel that my work is so precious it can't deal with that kind of review.  Actually, I'm such a freakin' boy scout in submitting my annual reports on time, all according to expectations.  And I've gone through all the hoo-hah of associate and full professordom.  And it all seems so very beside the point.

I'm genuinely proud of the poetry I've written this past year which has had nothing to do with publication at all, but all with performance.  What's more, I know that the poems I've written for the performances wouldn't really hold up as poems unto themselves, and neither would I like them to stand alone.  And not surprisingly, I feel better about my exceptionally narrow range of acting skills, and more severely limited tap-dancing, feel better about the voice poems I shared in speaking with a co-actor and which were choreographed, than I do about the prospects of my forthcoming book and having to write about it in my annual review next year.

Anyway, I'm not so sure, these days, that I'll fill this vacuum with the same old stuff.  

22 May 2010

Performance Hangover

Last night's performance of Salvage was a tremendous success.

Even with my tiny role--performing as an actor, reciting a poem with Katie Pankow, joining an improvisation (all of which meant about eight minutes of stage time)--I'm experiencing the usual post-performance hangover.  And obviously what I'm experiencing is not nearly as intense as it must be for the dancers, including Gerri Reaves, Mariquita Anderson, Jennifer Reed, Kelley Natella, and Lynn Vosloo, and certainly not so as it surely must be for choreographer Alyce Bochette.  All so much work, since October for Alyce and January for the dancers, for just over an hour of performance, and then a half hour later, the striking down of the floor, the props, the lighting, and nothing but space and time and memory--which is precisely what the dance itself was about.

The event itself was wonderful.  The venue was sold out, and that was a worry given the price of the tickets--Alyce did insist on student pricing, which made it more affordable for many in the audience.  And the audience was exceptional.  I am accustomed to going to the Florida Repertory Theater or to other art venues, and having to deal with a restless and sometimes disinterested audience.  The performance arts have made me a snob about audiences--most aren't worth a damn.  But last night's audience, typified by the lovely Berne Davis (more on her later), was a gem, really worthy of the performance. 

The last piece of the performance, a demanding, hypnotic, 24-minute orchestration, "A Ray of Light," captivated the audience.  Here, the open, intimate staging was so appropriate.  We had floor mats about two feet from the dance floor, where children mostly sat, and the audience seating was just behind the mats.  During one part of the dance is a sequence of improvisations for the dancers, each dancing against a column that framed the stage (these are real support columns for the building, no prop columns), and one dancer improvising with a forty-foot length of fabric suspended from the ceiling.  Before the performance, I was a little worried about the proximity for the audience, that they might lean back in their chairs, evade the closeness of it all.  But they kept true to the performance itself, and so they were ready for the final segment in which the dancers gather, arm in arm, with sweeping runs and fallings, with an athletic set of jumps and arm swings, and culminating in final climb by Kelley up the fabric to nearly the ceiling.  The piece was dedicated to Alyce's dear uncle Ray, who had passed away this winter, and the ending image was of this impossible climb up a cloud of fabric, and a final seizing, held in light, and then shut in darkness.

The audience, spellbound, sat in a three-second span of silence--was it a collective gasp?  And then genuine, happy, happy, and wild applause.  Me?  I was watching in the back corner, behind a piano, and I was quickly walking toward my entry for the final bow, at the moment between silence and applause.  The dancers were exhilarated, exhausted (and after the show, they were each so typically self-critical about lapses in timing or missed steps--ah, that perfection thing), and it was thrilling to hear the audience get it.

And then the quick disassembling.

But between that, we had a half hour to visit audience members and dear friends (Kat, Barry, Phil, Brittney, Jerry, Suzanne, and more!), and in attendance was Fort Myers' grande dame of the arts, Berne Davis.  She graduated from high school the year the building was finished, a WPA project of the new Fort Myers Post Office, and she is the principle benefactor of the building that bears her and her late husband's name.  I talked with her briefly, telling her I would fetch Alyce for her, and leaving Alyce with her, I later got to hear some snippets of their conversation.  Berne expressed such impassioned joy in her appreciation for the performance--and it was genuine, with tears in her eyes.  Here was something of a marvel in Fort Myers.  No, not cutting edge, high-end post-modern art, but something very good along those lines, with a competent and brave set of dancers, with a choreographer finding her own place, and to see all the pieces, however momentarily come together, was enthralling and humbling. 

And so this morning, after the late night striking, after a couple of hours with friends and artists at a local outdoor bar, it's the performance hangover.  Now, with bucketfuls of time, of idleness, wanting what?  And thinking about why wanting anything more than that moment, which is gone, a happy. humanly crafted little thing, almost nothing. 

20 May 2010

Dress Rehearsing

Salvage is going through dress rehearsal tonight.

As is often with these ventures, lots of last-minute worries and concerns; Stuart Brown has had to deal with tons of issues with the lighting, or rather, the lack thereof, and there's still tech cues to be worked out, last touches to costumes. 

The venue is at the Berne and Sidney Davis Center for the Arts, still very much going under renovation, under the stewardship of Jim Griffith.  Over the last two years, he's been able to host events, theater productions, dance concerts, musical performance, and gallery showings, but I know it's been a difficult challenge for him to get all the expensive equipment in order all the while trying to raise funds for finishing off the renovations.  The building is the old Federal Courthouse, and was the Post Office in Fort Myers for many years.  It's one of the surprising many gems of buildings in Fort Myers, and it's partially located in the "fort"of Fort Myers (the last building from that antebellum structure was destroyed around 1940--and so there are only echoes). 

Anyway, part of the intent of Salvage is to retrieve things from our past, and so this venue, even with its quirks for performances, is so fitting. 

16 May 2010


Visited a high-school classmate who was staying at the Atlantic Center for the Arts this past week, located on the East Coast of Florida at Smyrna Beach.  Hadn't seen him in about 27 years, when we were both at Indiana University, which was a long way from Idaho for both of us.  We had lost touch of one another about a year after graduating from high school, and I went to I.U. for my MFA.  My second year there, I moved into a quad-plex, and my friend was living in another apartment in the same building.  So that was a pretty big coincidence.  But again, I lost touch with him after I moved out, and he graduated from I.U. and moved west to California.

So we shared stories about our lives, talked a little about our own ambivalences growing up in Boise, politics, and writers.  In his room in the closet were signatures of past residents, including Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Carolyn Forche, Anthony Hecht, Quincy Troupe, Mary Jo Salter (those were just some of the poets). 

Anyway, the ACA campus is wonderful, with smartly designed studios and workshops, all in a very familiar (at least to me) estuary/hammock setting, meaning sabal palms, saw palmetto, slash pine, live oak, mahagony trees, lots of Cardinals, Carolina Wrens, and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers.  And Smyrna Beach, about a five minute drive away, as little of it I did see, is one of those charming, slightly run-down Florida beach towns--yes, always, pockmarked with high-rise condos, but not overrun, at least from a visitor's perspective. 

11 May 2010

Gods, Money, Jump-roping, Second Story

For Wooden Mouth, I took tap lessons, learning the basics and a few time steps, and now, for Salvage, I'm part of an improvised dance that includes some jump roping.  This part of the dance is set to found sounds pieced together by Stuart Brown, a mixing of voices from a distortion of a Southern Baptist-y oration on God's mercy to shouts of South African children at a playground.  Ever stretching, yet again.

And this morning, I've been thinking about money.  Right now, beyond our lanai--and here's a painful admission that we leave in a golf-course, gated community--workers are busily running an impressive array of tractors grooming, aerating, and fertilizing.  Here, in South Florida in May, the golf season is pretty much over, and so now begins the manic and loud tending of the greens.  To be a member of the golf club (which we are not), the initial dues are $50,000, and the annual fees are $12,000 with a round of golf being in the $200-500 range; I'm told that that's in the just above average in these parts.  It's staggering, especially seeing how few people actual play golf on the course itself. 

I'm also currently thinking about money and reading Walt Whitman.  I'm teaching a graduate seminar in June, yes, to make a little more money.  I am also thinking about the ticket price to the performance of Salvage, which is a pricey $35:  this figure was set by the director of the arts center where we will be performing, and while I've paid twice that for dance performances in Pittsburgh and Miami, it's really not what Alyce Bochette wanted for this particular performance.  One, all the artists are collaborating for free.  Two, we want a sizeable audience to see our work.  Three, we are hardly using any of the resources of the center beyond the space itself.  Four, the price will keep students away (no discount yet for students).  And it's not that this venue habitually has high-ish ticket prices, as it features finely produced theater for $20 per pop, routinely participates in free events for the monthly art walk.  Anyway, I'm thinking about the money here because I don't believe I've participated in an event with a $35 admission price.

Yes, $35 is nothing by so many other entertainment standards.  But I'm reading Whitman, whose biggest selling book in his lifetime was his temperance novel, Franklin Evans, which sold some 20,000 copies at one bit a pop (12.5 cents), and who made his serious money working furiously in journalism and later, after becoming the good gray poet, delivering the odd lecture/performance, cashing in about $600, which would keep him afloat for the year. 

And now I recollect the first poetry reading I participated in in which we decided to charge a cover fee.  This was in Bloomington, Indiana in 1982, and the reading featured myself, Dan Bourne, Tyler Fleeson (wonderful poet and editor, big spirited one, where are you?), and Robyn Wiegman (this was when Robyn was a kick-ass poet, well before she became a kick-ass uber-academic).  The reading took place at the music venue Second Story, which was above the gay bar Bullwinkles, both of which are defunct.  I recall the reading for two reasons:  one, it was the first and only reading where I flipped off an audience member (it was Robyn who was heckling me, for the record--we were pretty drunk); two, the reading had a $1.00 cover charge.  That was Dan's idea, and we plastered all the telephone posts with our flyer, set off by the famous Kenneth Patchen quote, "People who say they love poetry and never buy any are a bunch of cheap sons of bitches."

I remember walking with Dan, seeing one of our flyers defaced, with someone having scribbled, "What about art for art's sake?"  Dan said something like, "Yeah, we're whores now."  We actually had a good turnout for the reading, probably around 80 people (again, good, for a poetry reading), principally because it was at a bar.  Thus, we ended up each with about $10 haul, which gave us some bragging rights, I suppose among the I.U. MFA poetry crowd then.  We would get all cheery for each other, whether it was someone talking about getting $5.00 for a poem in the Hawai'i Review or $10.00 from Wisconsin Review.  Good for a round of pitchers of beer, and that seemed rather miraculous and happy.

08 May 2010

Art Walking, Fort Myers

The above is a fragment of a street performance, called "My Umbrella," I did during the November, 2009 Art Walk in Fort Myers.  Art Walk is a first-Monday arts event, one of my favorite things to participate in this neck of the woods.  Anyway, Gerri did the video-graphing, and there are three separate segments to this film.  The final version doesn't have the slow-downed voice stuff, but overlaid with poetry and Edith Pilaf fragments--it's probably better to view with the sound mute.   My favorite part occurs about 5:20 into the video.  It's a part of my larger, intermedial performance, my whale, the birds, which took place in December 2009.

But about Art Walk itself, I get to see many of my favorite visual and performing artists in some very fun galleries and art spaces in downtown Fort Myers (which itself is a profoundly undervalued and underappreciated in Southwest Florida), including Arts for Act Gallery, Space 39, and Howl Gallery.  These and other galleries feature local, national, and international visual artists, and on the first Monday evening of every month, there's a hint of Miami to Downtown Fort Myers, which is no small feat.

I also spend time there at the Bar Association, a fun, civilized, playful beer/wine place right on Hendry.  I'll be writing more about these places and such over the next months--and looking forward to the incredible Purple Martin Festival that the Bar Association has been promoting for July.

Fort Myers, isolated cow and boom town (currently devastated by the housing bust), is a place perfectly lampooned in the Palm Beach Story, in which Claudette Colbert says with feigned enthusiasm, "Let's go to Fort Myers!  There's absolutely nothing to do there!"  Fort Myers, or rather Lee County, is golf-course, gated-community land, where on the whole there is no center, no identity but a big tourist play-yard, and it comes with all the terrible trappings of that.  Yet, Fort Myers is actually a real place, with a real history, and its vibrant arts community is a well kept secret.  Yes, there is much, much I can't stand about this place, but it does have its charms and beauty . . . .

06 May 2010


Honesty in reviewing note:  I am an on-line acquaintance of January Gill O'Neil, knowing of her work through her blog, and collaborating on a couple of projects here and there.  I am in her acknowledgements page of this book, and she blurbed my forthcoming Gods & Money.  I'm writing this review as an additional stop to the blog tour of her book.  Take it all for what all that may be worth.

When first handling January Gill O'Neil's amazing debut collection, Underlife, I was immediately taken with the physical beauty of the book itself.  The publisher, CavanKerry Press, Ltd., designed the book with a very old school eye, while being environmentally aware in using recycled paper.  In this age of cheap Print-on-Demand book publishing that even small presses have opted for cost saving, CavanKerry's book designers clearly love the book itself.  The soft-cover jacket wrap-around and the heavy-weight endpapers wink at cloth-bound editions; there's a heft to the book, along with the paper's warm tone, that suggests that this is a book that's going to stay around.  The choice of a sans-serif font gives the layout a clean post-war feel, thus not making the book production a little too precious.

I had ordered Underlife as a text in my "Poetry and the Other Arts" class at Florida Gulf Coast University--I was coupling this book with Denise Duhamel's Kinky to explore dynamics of popular culture in contemporary American poetry.  The students' reactions were mixed, mostly favorable, and January's poems gave us opportunities to talk about issues of accessibility and narrative poetics.  The strength and weakness of her work reside in those very qualities, although I would argue that the book demonstrates a considerable range with formal experimentations, with sophisticated moments of disassociative improvisations.  The book has a villanelle, abcederian, loose couplets and tercets, goof-ball lyrics, and broken rhythms (her poem, "Drone," is an especially dexterous mix of imagistic fragments and reflective meditation poured into a narrative frame).  But in the main, her poems are laid in clear, simple, precise language, working within memory-locked narratives.

One fairly smart student, who's a very hep, voracious reader of disassociative poets, complained of the neatness and linearity of Underlife.  I couldn't argue against his point, that readers who can't get enough of Dean Young and Rae Armantrout won't get much out of January Gill O'Neil (that's how I put it, not the student).   And then just after that comment, one student defended O'Neil by saying that he didn't like much poetry until he read O'Neil's work, because it was so accessible--as Natasha Tretheway says in her introduction, that O'Neil "gives voice to personal experience with compelling honesty."  At this point, I am hearing all the arguments over the last 40 years about the navel-gazing and smallness of contemporary American poetry.  I am also cringing slightly with the idea of someone who doesn't like poetry, because of its difficulty, championing an accessible poet a little too enthusiastically.

I would argue that Underlife isn't necessarily so neat and lineal, not necessarily so reassuring.  Many of her poems have a terrifying and thralling edging to them.  "Sugar" is a good example.  The poem starts with the most ordinary of personal observation, kick-starting a narrative meditation with this pedestrian, domestic act:  "I pour a tablespoon of sugar on my kitchen counter."  This rumination, at first goes inward, slightly confessional with the association of sugar to a husband's kiss.  Yes, at this point, the poem is heading into 1980s poetic disaster.

But then O'Neil unleashes a Whitmanesque phrase, "I myself a creature," and we are no longer standing on the terrain of the self-absorbed, self-important poet of small experience, smaller ideas.  O'Neil goes big.  The poet here turns to her audience:  those accusatory pots, pans, soup cans, cereal boxes, all domestic, humanly produced goods.  She says, "every human narrative / requires an act of nature."  The poet's final act is ritualistic, touching the flatness of her tongue to gather a grain of sugar, matching each self-evident truth she regards.  On one hand, this poem ends on what could be seen as a conventional note of affirmation.  But it's also a difficult, even self-accusatory, moment of defiance.  She's hep to the fallacies here, the easy logic, the comforting appearances (why else would the soup cans and cereal boxes turn "their labels in disbelief" to her own story?), and the poem ends on an act of consumption, of taking in.  She's hep to the pointlessness.  Even so, she presses her tongue.

There's more to say about O'Neil's humor, her very deep sense of play, but I would instead encourage you to follow this poet and her career as you can, while you can.

03 May 2010

Angels of the Arts Tonight

One of my favorite local arts events, supported by my absolutely favorite local arts organization, is happening tonight.  It's the annual Angel of the Arts Awards dinner, sponsored by the Alliance for the Arts, led by the amazing Lydia Black (she's my Angel of the Arts for Lee County). 

The format basically follows the Academy Awards, with a handsome statuette, winner's envelopes, and nominees, all dressed up splendidly, and even funkily, as much as that's possible in Fort Myers.  Categories include best artist, best performing artist, best new artist, best literary artist, lifetime achievement, and the like.  About a dozen folks I know are in the running:  Stuart Brown, Jesse Millner, Phil Heubeck, Tricia Fey, Marcus Jansen, Julia Gerow-Griffin, Barry Cavin, Anica Sturdivant, among others.   I'm looking forward to attending, enjoying this wonderful and happy celebration.

01 May 2010


I'm thrilled to be collaborating with Alyce Bochette on her piece Salvage, which will be performed May 21 at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Centre in Fort Myers.  Alyce is a remarkable, versatile dancer and teacher--most recently she was my tap teacher, but more on that in some other post--having performed in Mark Morris's Dance Group for many years, among many other hugely impressive associations.

Anyway, I extended a poem I was already working on with another collaboration, again for another post, for which I had been thinking of ideas for Alyce's piece.  We spent an afternoon talking just about the dynamics of that word salvage.  Clearly about keeping and saving, but also as much about letting go, abandoning, dispossessing, all with spiritual, nostalgic, and familial elements at play.  About three weeks ago, I gave Alyce the poem, and she has choreographed a remarkable dance for a trio, and we then decided to make the poem a script.  The wonderful Katie Pankow and I will perform the poem while the dancers dance--we're blocked upstage to the right, sitting on a really big box, and so we're part chorus, part musicians, part Brechtian spectators.  The rehearsals have just been marvelous.  And this piece will be the first dance for the program (the closing dance, I must say, is riveting, emotional, and very smart). 

Alyce is working with Stuart Brown, and it will be dance with video, image, fabric, silence, boxes, music, and it has been a joy to be a part of.  One of the dancers, by the way, is Gerri, and it's been a good while for her since she has performed in a serious piece (even though she won a judge's award for a great rhumba she performed last fall for a charity event). 

In any event, it should be a special evening for all who attend.